From poet Jeffery Beam to Clive Hicks-Jenkins on the matter of Drift:

“So dear Horseman

Are you/Jordan/Mari adrift at the moment in the story? Why does Jordan look so sad?”

From Clive to Jeffery:

“That’s a tough one. Thousands of ‘moments’ of endeavour go into these drawings, and all of them experienced in heightened states of emotion. Choose any one of the moments and you’d have a different answer from me.

It’s like this. New day, new work. Around me a scattering of thumb-nail sketches, some studies and maybe a worked up detail or two that might make it into the finished image.

There are the poems too, printed out from your e-mails to me. Sometimes I cut out a line or a verse, to concentrate my thoughts. These trimmed fragments lie across the table. Occasionally I sweep them aside, or pull out one that catches my attention. They have a life of their own, especially if the window is open and a breeze ruffles the work surface, spinning them in ticker-tape flurries to the corners of the room.

The board is in front of me… the stage on which the performance will take place… and a pencil is in my hand. (Sometimes the right, sometimes the left. Which will it be today? One hand makes me deft, the other, visionary. I usually draw with the right and paint with the left, but mood can make me reverse the habit.) The board is the clean sheet, the screen on which I’ll attempt to project a partially-formed dream.

You ask me why Jordan looks so sad.

Perhaps because his is the beating heart in this universe of dishevelled, snaky foliate-ness and thundering hooves bearing down upon fragile flesh. His face is the still point drawing the eye and begging the question… why?

From Jeffery to Clive:

“So many transformations: the reappearance of the scarf; the reappearance of the one glove and in a purple hue; not only the complete transference of the tulips to the Mari, but also the left arm back in the jacket and the right arm bare; blue seeming to infuse even the scarf and hair more and more; the spots on the horse’s body and the Mari’s now blue color as the tulips have emerged out its red body revealing its blue undercoat; and the severely diminishing head of the Mari (what to make of that?).

You have challenged us all with this image – as stealthfully as you challenge yourself.”

“Tell me. Why Drift?”

From Clive to Jeffery:

I begin with an underdrawing, sometimes faint like smoke, sometimes confident, usually a bit of both, mostly fluid at this early stage. Then the painting and the rendering begin. It feels as though I’m attempting to produce a mosaic from thousands of glittering tesserae, each one of them a different micro-thought flashing through my brain. When I’m working away I have to make the image one tiny tile-of-thought at a time, and it’s as though this flood of thoughts and moods spreads across the board. The thoughts/voices/poetry at this point are a cacophony, and I have to try and catch at the most insistent ones to fathom their meanings, all while listening/watching for the next to emerge. Each takes me where it will. I get buffeted in one direction by playful zephyrs, carried smoothly for periods on the dazzling surface, or dragged down into deep currents where all is shadowy and cold. Sometimes everything slows and then halts. I trace the curved route for the stem of a tulip, graze a petal with the striations of it’s markings. Becalmed, I drift.

Then something pulls at me again, the insistent and unguessable current reasserting, the line of poetry that lightning-flashes in the head, the breeze though the open window that sends all the fragments of drawings and poetry flying, and in a moment I’m away again, off into the unknown.”

From Jeffery to Clive:

“I see all the transformations/transfigurations in the piece from Flowering Skin to Drift as I recounted in my posting comment. But wonder what in your imagination leads to this title. I’m so curious about the change in the Mari’s head size too.”

From Clive to Jeffery:

“Your question had me turning to the pages of Montserrat Prat’s chapter on the Mare’s Tale drawings in the 2011 Lund Humphries monograph. Montserrat writes of the male figures in the series that are…”

“… reminiscent of the ancient Greeks; not ancient sculpture that aimed at ideal form, but vase paintings that portrayed the ordinary and the imperfect. In black and red painted vases, Greek heroes are distorted. Often their heads are small on their invincible, naked bodies, their faces shown in profile to spare expression.”

Study for Burden. Conté pencil on paper. 2000

“Jeffery, it seems to me the beast in Drift is like those Greek heroes, all muscle and power and not a lot of thinking. Visually magnificent, though intuitive rather than reasoning. The horse/Mari is becalmed, and not kinetic as it appears in other works. Here it stands proud and beautiful, enmeshed in red arabesques of parrot tulips, awaiting the impetus for action. Benign protector/muscular anchor for Jordan in a shifting universe, or perhaps the beast within that pauses before attacking.

I see that I’m probably turning answers into more questions.”

Burden. Conté pencil on paper. 2000

And finally, what some of the others have to say.

Marly Youmans:

“Still pondering how different this mythic creature is from the horses in the Mari Lwyd series in your retrospective… And how it is influenced by the patterns you’ve painted on skin in between. And how the red ribbony harness becomes a stem with leaves and flowers–it is good for harsh things to become foliate.”

Above: serpentine ribbon snaps and flows through this detail from Red Flow, 2002

Below: parrot tulips unfurl and writhe across the Mari in a detail from Drift, 2015

Maria Maestre on Drift:

“For me, it is the one violet glove, gleaming near the horse’s rump like a fan with it’s own enigmatic and secret language, which holds the key to the whole painting, telling me story after story, depending of how I look at it.”

Janet Kershaw on Drift:

“I love the shape of this horse and the way she fills the space in this composition. Peaceful and contented. The title Drift suggests to me a floating silently in space, in a vacuum, like a dream. Now the horse is completely patterned, and a glove is off, as if some transference has taken place.”

Phil Cooper on Flowering Skin:

“I’m loving the Borderlands imagery coming into these new Mari images; I was fortunate enough to see those Boderlands paintings in the flesh at the Mall Galleries last summer and I was mesmerised by them, they had such presence.
In this new work, though, those flowers across Jordan’s chest are so sexy!”

Sarah the Curious One on Yarden:

“Who would have expected ravishing parrot tulips and a magnificent Mari as Jordan’s protector? Definitely not me!

All good storytellers know an element of surprise is the key to telling their tale and you have not let us down with ‘Yarden’, Clive. Bravo!”

Liz Sangster on Drift:

“I love the way you have achieved the power and size of a horse, I feel as though I am very small looking up at the head. Jordan literally appears to drift; the violet glove against the blue is an inspiration, and the whole painting is so luminous…”

15 thoughts on “Words

  1. I’ve sent Clive two new poems for “Drift”. One simply entitled “Drift” the other “Hand in Glove.” All of your comments continue to feed my words in process as they feed Clive and his visual journey. I thank you all for that. Deeply grateful. I suspect Clive will share an excerpt from what I’ve sent. I await the next image (!) and ultimately the moment when images and poems can be revealed in their allness to your Allness.

  2. (quietly opens the door and tip-toes to an empty seat right at the back of the class room)

    thinking: I hope teacher doesn’t notice me arriving late, especially since I haven’t done my home work! *gulp*

  3. What brilliant words in this post today; how wonderful it would be to put these posts into a book, with the accompanying images, but I know there are probably a hundred other projects on the go already at the moment!
    I was captivated by the description of your process Clive, in the paragraph starting ‘I begin with an underdrawing….’; it should be included in any anthology of artists talking about their work, your words perfectly captured the mysterious alchemy between hard slog and creative inspiration that results in a piece of artwork. When you write about the cacophony of thoughts jabbering away as your pencil hovers over the ‘stage’ of your board, and about how you try and tune in to the right one for the moment, you articulate something magical at the heart of the creative universe for me, it’s so beautifully put, thank you. I’m doing a bit of drawing today and this post is thrumming through my head now!

  4. Clive, I love the thoughtful and thought provoking responses this series of paintings are triggering from the Artloggers, as well as the insights we are receiving from you into your creative process and what is currently informing your work.

    The Mari of Dark Movements continues to be a shapeshifter. There is an ancient and timeless quality about the horse in ‘Drift’, which I find deeply calming and meditative.

    Unlike Jeffery, Jordan does not appear sad to me, but the ‘still point’ of the painting you describe. Carl Jung’s studies of the horse in dreams showed that the form the animal took often reflected the state of mind of the dreamer. He believed the horse symbolised intuitive thought. I would be greatly reassured if this Mari appeared in my dreams or my imaginings.

    I believe that the horses that appeared on Greek vases were Arabian horses and were said to have been “created by angels and worth more than gold”, which I find the perfect description for a horse from the Clive Hicks-Jenkins stable. (-:

    • I think it important that ‘art’ can be ‘read’ in diverse ways by all comers to it, and that viewers may bring whatever they want to the table. For Jeffery the man in the drawing is sad, while for you he is reflective. In this way art can be as music or poetry, with enough space around the work for imagination to breathe.

  5. Doing a bit of catch-up on reading the artblog as I’ve been on the road and just arrived at tthe house at Round Hill on Monday.

    I felt great and infectious excitement while reading the description of how thoughts become transferred to the creation,. That cacophony of thoughts, moods, ideas, or whatever is such an amazing thing when it is occurring. Such a powerful passage describing the feeling and process!

    Love the colour of the horse and its wonderful illustrated skin. It is absolutely gorgeous. Also Jordan’s drifting position – to me he seems like one who is looking inward, lost in his thoughts, and in limbo. He could be floating, slowly spinning, down a stream with eyes gazing at a forest canopy above, but mind wandering elsewhere (but perhaps I am projecting my own memories of drifting on an innertube down the Gaspereau River here in Nova Scotia many years ago!).

    I was fascinated with your discussion of the small head of the horse. I did not think of the connection to Greek heroes and athletes, but yes, they were depicted with the emphasis on body and muscle, and the small size of the head was part of how that was accomplished. Oddly, I’ve come across this in a somewhat different context. This winter, while at the cabin in Arizona, I spent some time working up ideas for the carvings I hope to make this summer while here in Nova Scotia. Many will be of horses, but also cattle and sheep as these are subjects I have always enjoyed carving. I’ve been looking at a lot of horse and livestock paintings from the 1800s, and as you will know, in so many, the heads are diminutive, while the bodies are massive and powerful. The small heads work to increase the feeling of mass of the bodies. For me, thinking of those bodies transformed into a three dimensional carvings feels quite exciting – that they will feel good in my hands while I’m working. The roundness and mass of them will feel – uhm – big! The way a carving feels in my hand has always been an important part of why I carve and maybe also why, in particular, I gravitate toward carving horses as I love (and miss) the feel of running my hands over a horse’s skin and muscles after several decades of grooming and riding them. Anyhow, I’ve been working up sketches of horses and other creatures with smallish heads and may try this with a few carvings. Hopefully others will like them and not exclaim, “They’re nice, but their heads are too small!”. ;->

    In any case, much to think about after reading these latest two posts. You seem on fire with this series of paintings. How very exciting! It must be difficult to pull yourself away from the studio to eat and sleep!

    • Bev, as ever, it’s lovely to see you here. I always look forward to when you pop by. Thank you for continuing to visit the Artlog.

      I think it can be the place of art to be the screen onto which we are allowed to project our own ideas. Art as meditation.

      If people remark “They’re nice, but their heads are too small”, take my advice. Smile enigmatically and move on. In terms of making, the mantra should always be ‘Never apologise, never explain.’

  6. Thank you Clive, for this entry; it is great to have more about the way your work comes to life.

    And thank you for including my words (the words of a nobody, who is not even good at writing in English) among the words of your artist and writer friends and collaborators.

    Love to all from Madrid

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